Top 10 1976–1977 Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films

1976 and 1977 were wonderful years for the Shaw Brothers studio, filled with an abundance of great films that made narrowing this list to 10 a challenging proposition. Wuxias, largely following the patterns set by the films of King Hu and Chang Cheh, had fallen out of favor by the early ’70s, but Chor Yuen’s 1976 film Killer Clans — and the many that followed it — injected new life and new ideas into a faded genre. Chor’s unique re-focusing of the genre towards literary adaptations and tales showcasing mental fortitude over purely physical abilities made him a driving force in the industry, and the next monumental figure in the history of the wuxia genre. Meanwhile, Lau Kar-Leung released his next two films during these years, pushing the realistic kung fu seen in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films to new heights. During this period, Chang Cheh was also forced to reckon with the fact that he was no longer the driving force of Hong Kong action filmmaking, as his time in Taiwan came to a close.

These years also saw the rise of other Hong Kong cinema luminaries outside of the Shaw system. Sammo Hung’s first directorial effort, The Iron-Fisted Monk, was a huge hit, Richard Ng became a star with both the #1 & #2 film of 1977 (John Woo’s The Pilferer’s Progress & Karl Maka’s Winner Takes All!), and the Hui Brothers continued their blockbuster dominance with 1976’s The Private Eyes. Jackie Chan was also on the verge of superstardom with the looming release of Yuen Woo-Ping’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow a few months into 1978, but during 1976–1977 he was still making a string of films for Lo Wei. Other non-Shaw fan favorites released during these years include: The 18 Bronzemen, One-Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine (Master of the Flying Guillotine), The Secret Rivals, The Hot, the Cool and the Vicious, The Invincible Armour, Snuff-Bottle Connection, Broken Oath, and many, many more. With this introduction, I hope to paint a brief picture of these years in Hong Kong cinema, both to refresh memories or to spur new fans to dive deeper. 🙂

As usual, I’ve included links to iTunes/Amazon/DDDHouse for easy access if you’re looking to get the films. The availability is current as of the posting of this list. eBay is always a good option, as well, if my links don’t turn up any results. If you’re interested in what’s below the cut and you don’t want to troll through my review archive, I have ranked lists on Letterboxd for every year I’ve finished in the Shaw Brothers Chronological review series. You can find 1976 here and 1977 here.

OK, OK, let’s get to the list!


#10 Judgement of an Assassin (1977)
Directed by Sun Chung
Reviewed August 10, 2018

Judgement of an Assassin was Sun Chung’s first wuxia since 1972’s The Devil’s Mirror, a film I absolutely adore. Sun’s return exists in a middle ground between the brooding darkness of Chor Yuen and the comic book sensibilities of Chang Cheh’s The Brave Archer, delivering fun and exciting choreography in a wonderful package. It feels like an underseen film, and that should definitely not be the case. With its near-perfect combo of entertaining action and a beautifully structured story, this is a movie that all Shaw Brothers fans should see.

Judgement of an Assassin is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD or VCD. Check Amazon or eBay, and keep your fingers crossed that Celestial may release the film digitally sometime in the future.

#9 The Shaolin Avengers (1976)
Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)
Reviewed December 8, 2017

The Shaolin Avengers is top-notch Shaolin Cycle; a fantastic movie that cohesively combines the stories of Fang Shih-Yu and Hu Huei-Chien into one thrilling, entertaining package. Its greatness lies in its structure; the film opens with its finale, fading in and out into flashbacks that show how our heroes and villains all came to this particular battle. The structure removes a lot of the tension inherent in a traditional revenge story, but this is the point. Instead, I pondered the nature of life, how small moments remind you of people or places, and how important preparation is to success. The Shaolin Avengers is a film of pure entertainment that builds up more of the Shaolin mythology of the earlier films, or in other words, it’s every thing I could want out of a Shaolin Cycle film.

On disc, The Shaolin Avengers is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD or VCD. Check Amazon or eBay. Digitally it is available for rental/purchase at iTunes, Amazon Prime, and other top digital platforms.

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The Iron-Fisted Monk (1977)

The Iron-Fisted Monk [三德和尚與舂米六] (1977)
AKA Iron Fisted Monk, San Te & Chong Mi-Liu

Starring Sammo Hung, Chan Sing, James Tin Jun, Lo Hoi-Pang, Chu Ching, Wang Hsieh, Fung Hak-On, Yeung Wai, Dean Shek Tin, Yen Shi-Kwan, Wu Ma, Casanova Wong, Eric Tsang, Chin Yuet-Sang, Chung Fat, Chiu Hung, Fung Fung, Lam Ching-Ying

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Interested to see this again.


Sammo Hung left the Shaw Brothers studio in the early 1970s to help kick-start Golden Harvest as an actor, stuntman, and action choreographer. Golden Harvest kept him very busy in the years leading to The Iron-Fisted Monk, giving him ample opportunity to hone his new skills and develop new ones simultaneously. I don’t know if Sammo finally felt he was up to the task of directing his own film in 1977, or if Golden Harvest finally relented to his requests, but the finished film demonstrates that Sammo was definitely ready to add a new feather to his cap. I first saw this film a few years ago when I watched my way through Sammo’s entire directorial filmography; at the time I thought it was a pretty good debut, but not especially great. At some level, I still agree with myself, but watching the film within the context of its Shaw contemporaries reveals it to be a more impressive movie than it initially appeared.

Chong Mi-Liu (Sammo Hung) is a mischievous student at the Shaolin Temple. He began studying there after Manchu thugs bullied his uncle and killed him. Chong was unable to fight them off, but thankfully the revered Shaolin monk San Te (Chan Sing) — the same character that Gordon Liu plays in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin — takes control of the situation and shows the thugs the power of Shaolin training. Chong is like many heroes out for revenge, though, and waiting for the completion of his training is just not an option. Chong remembers how Hu Hui-Chien — the folk hero Chi Kuan-Chun plays in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films — left Shaolin early, so he decides to do the same. For those keeping track of Shaolin lore, according to The 36th Chamber of Shaolin San Te was the monk who trained Hung Hsi-Kuan, so this and Chong’s knowledge of Hu would place this film sometime after the majority of the Shaw Brothers Shaolin films. The Chinese title of The Iron-Fisted Monk is a lot like those Shaw films, as well, simply stating the characters names: San Te & Chong Mi-Liu. Any disappointment about there not being an iron-fisted monk can be attributed to yet another misleading English title. Apparently, both characters are Chinese folk heroes (the original trailer states as much), but I couldn’t find any specific info on Chong.

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Magnificent Wanderers (1977)

Magnificent Wanderers [江湖漢子] (1977)
AKA Magnificent Kung Fu Warriors

Starring David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Li Yi-Min, Shan Mao, Yeung Chung-Man, Lee Ying, Lam Fai-Wong, Han Chiang, Wong Cheong-Chi, Yu Heng, Cho Boot-Lam, Chiang Sheng, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lu Feng

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Moderate.


Ever the innovator, Chang Cheh’s final film under the Chang’s Co. banner was new ground for the director. Magnificent Wanderers brings together “Chang Cheh” and “comedy,” two concepts that seemingly couldn’t be further apart. I love a good kung fu comedy, but I never imagined Chang Cheh would throw his hat into that ring. Nothing about Chang’s films suggests he had any interest in making a comedy, in fact, the kung fu comedies that arose from this era seem like a specific reaction to the ultra-seriousness of Chang Cheh’s genre-defining work. I don’t know what compelled him to attempt a comedy, but judging from Magnificent Wanderers I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t a great fit.

Lin Shao You (Fu Sheng), Shi Da Yong (Chi Kuan-Chun), and Guan Fei (Li Yi-Min) are three poor nomads who make a living by hustling with a rigged fortune-telling stand. After a successful day, Lin suggests they all visit a real restaurant for once. They are stopped before they can sit down, but the well-known millionaire, Chu Tie Xia (David Chiang), claims they are his friends and invites them to dine with him. So begins a friendship upon which the rest of the film is built. There isn’t really much of a plot to the film; it’s more about the general struggle between our heroes (who are attempting to meet up with the rebellion) and the Mongols. This doesn’t accurately represent the movie that well, though, as the tone is always lighthearted and jovial. It’s a comedic struggle with bungling, farcical Mongol villains.

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The Naval Commandos (1977)

The Naval Commandos [海軍突擊隊] (1977)

Starring Lau Wing, Chi Kuan-Chun, David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Shih Szu, Ti Lung, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chiang Sheng, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lu Feng, An Ping, Woo Kei, Shan Mao, Lee Sau-Kei, Chu Jing, Kwok San-Hing, Lam Fai-Wong, David Tang Wei

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Pao Hsueh-Li, Wu Ma, and Liu Wei-Bin)

Expectations: Pretty high.


The Naval Commandos was one of the last movies Chang Cheh made in Taiwan before returning to the Shaw studio in Hong Kong. It was produced in cooperation with Taiwan’s Central Film Company, and like 7-Man Army, the Taiwanese military assisted with the filming by providing vehicles and other tools of war to make the film realistic. This is evident throughout the film, but it is the most prominent during the film’s introduction and frame story. It depicts a training exercise simulating the many pieces involved in a successful beachfront invasion (similar to the D-Day invasion shown in Saving Private Ryan or The Big Red One). It works beautifully to set the stage for the wartime action drama to follow, as well as serving as a large-scale display of power for the Taiwanese military.

This introduction is great, and it perfectly frames the film, but the film’s primary story is far more interesting. Many years prior during the Second Sino-Japanese War, when the Chinese Navy was less advanced, the Japanese cruiser Izumo (referenced as Izuma in the subtitles) was docked in Japanese-controlled Shanghai in preparation for further attack on China. The Chinese Navy had nothing that could stand up to the Izumo in direct battle, so it is decided that a small group of men aboard a torpedo boat will try to perform a sneak attack disguised as a fishing boat. Getting there is not so easy, though, as there is a huge field of mines to be crossed and Japanese patrols to elude. It is a valiant plan in theory, but unfortunately it is derailed before it even has a chance of success. The men arrive in Shanghai, undeterred and focused on finding a new method of sinking the Izumo.

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Deadly Angels (1977)

Deadly Angels [俏探女嬌娃] (1977)
AKA Bod Squad, Women Detectives

Starring Lau Wing, Nancy Yen Nan-See, Siu Yam-Yam, Evelyn Kraft, Dana, James Nam Gung-Fan, Kim Jeong-Nan, Shut Chung-Tin, Si Wai, Cheng Miu, Lee Hoi-Sang, Chin Chun, Gam Biu, Fung Hak-On, Chan Shen, Wu Ma

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Low, but part of that is the print quality.


In 1980s Hong Kong cinema, the “Girls with Guns” sub-genre of action was very popular. I’ve seen Deadly Angels referred to as the progenitor of the genre, and perhaps that was the case, but there were definitely similar films made prior to this (1974’s Virgins of the Seven Seas is the one that immediately comes to mind). The film’s success is also up for debate, as the Movieworld box office site lists it as the top Hong Kong film of the year, while the HK Urban Council’s 1984 book A Study of Hong Kong Cinema in the Seventies (1970-1979) doesn’t show it at all in their Top 10 Box Office listing. I have previously found slight discrepancies with Movieworld’s site, and the film’s seven-day run would correspond more accurately with a less successful film, so I’m leaning heavily towards the HK Urban Council. Whether it was successful or not, Deadly Angels has fallen into obscurity and is only available in low-quality VHS prints. I’m sure the film would play better in its original language, remastered and in its intended ratio, but the film was a co-production with the South Korean company Woosung Productions, and if I’m not mistaken Celestial hasn’t remastered any of Shaw’s major co-productions (due to licensing issues, I’m guessing).

Deadly Angels opens with a woman walking into a darkened room. A man asks, “Did you bring the stuff from Hong Kong?” She answers to the affirmative, the man walks out of the shadows and violently rips off her bra. Small packets containing diamonds are ripped out of the bra’s lining, and before the woman can leave the room, a throwing knife plunges into her neck. To combat such a violent and ruthless criminal organization, the police must come up with something special. The gang only uses showgirls to smuggle their stolen diamonds out of the country, so the team must be composed of beautiful women. Good thing the Hong Kong police has Evelyn Kraft on its force, as she has assembled a “special action squad” of three foxy females ready to take on organized crime. I didn’t catch their character names, but they are played by Nancy Yen Nan-See, Siu Yam-Yam, and Dana. Each one carries a unique weapon in addition to their firearm and martial arts expertise: a small spiked ball on a long chain, a mini-crossbow, and a slingshot disguised as a hair tie (with explosive-shot earrings)! All this adds up to a James Bond meets Charlie’s Angels meets the Shaw studio sort of thing, and it’s pretty darn entertaining at its heights.

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All Men Are Brothers @ ShawBrothersUniverse.com

Hey there, Emuls-a-margins, my latest post for the official Shaw Brothers site went up a couple days ago! I revised my review of the Water Margin sequel, All Men Are Brothers! Check it out here and enjoy!

And if you’re looking to watch All Men Are Brothers, you can find it digitally on iTunes, Amazon Prime and other major digital stores. It’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Shaolin Temple (1976)

Shaolin Temple [少林寺] (1976)
AKA Death Chamber

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Wai Wang, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Yueh Hua, Wong Chung, Lau Wing, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Li Yi-Min, Shih Szu, Ku Wen-Chung, Shan Mao, Chiang Sheng, Ku Feng, Lu Feng, Wong Ching, Tsai Hung, Chiang Nan, Shum Lo, Wang Han-Chen, Lee Sau-Kei, Liu Wai, Hao Li-Jen

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Another Shaolin Cycle film. Yes, I’m still expecting greatness.


Shaolin Temple isn’t Chang Cheh’s last Shaolin film, but it is the last in his Shaolin Cycle that began with 1974’s Heroes Two. His later Shaolin films with the Venom Mob actors may relate in some ways, but I consider them separately from the Shaolin Cycle films. Anyway, Shaolin Temple is a great finale to Chang’s non-linear series with a habit of contradicting itself and re-telling different versions of the same story. Shaolin Temple showcases something that has been talked about in just about every film, but has yet to be shown in its full glory: the Shaolin Temple itself. In classic Chang Cheh fashion, it’s also not a typical martial arts film; it’s one that puts the Shaolin Temple and its teachings at the forefront of the film, above character development and even plot. If you’ve seen all the previous entries, this isn’t a big deal, but newcomers might be a little lost with the sheer amount of characters in the film.

Shaolin Temple is basically a prequel to Five Shaolin Masters and Heroes Two/Men from the Monastery/The Shaolin Avengers (and while we’re building shaky Shaw Shaolin timelines, Lau Kar-Leung’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin would come directly before Shaolin Temple). It also re-tells/re-imagines certain aspects that would tie into those films, so it’s not the type of prequel that completely works. That doesn’t matter in this case, though, as these are folk tales just waiting to be re-imagined and re-told as the teller sees fit. In any case, the film opens with Hung Hsi-Kuan (here played by Wang Wai), Fang Shih-Yu/Fong Sai-Yuk (Alexender Fu Sheng), and Hu Huei-Chien (Chi Kuan-Chun) kneeling outside the Shaolin Temple in hopes of being accepted for training in the martial arts. The Grand Master (Ku Wen-Chung) decides that after five days of kneeling, the men are dedicated enough to withstand the hardships of Shaolin training. What ultimately sways him is his feeling that if he does not teach them, the very survival of the Shaolin martial arts might hang in the balance. They enter the temple, and it begins a new era of the temple training outsiders to aid their resistance against the oppressive Qing government.

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